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Alice Marshall: Blood

at Just the Tonic @ the Caves

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Hilarity and discomfort collide in fearless character comedy

Image of Alice Marshall: Blood

You suspect that the man who has mentally mangled poor Alice Marshall (or at least the version she presents on stage) must have been a real piece of work if the characters she’s dredged from the depths of her psyche to deal with it are anything to go by.

Marshall presents five scenes, each performed as a different character and each prefaced with a short video in which the “real” Marshall is depicted as unsuccessfully dealing with a breakup; losing her job and turning to the bottle in the process.  This is dark territory.  From the opening video in which she vomits blood on her ex, the message is clear: love is a wound.

Enter demented relationship guru Greta Medina; hardened to the point of calcification against anything as contemptuous as love.  One suspects this is Marshall’s favourite character: strident and cold, counselling fortification against the siren call of your own body.  To depict mating, Marshall dons a blue unitard and mimes against a recorded David Attenborough voiceover.  Apart from the occasionally mouthed obscenity she’s entirely mute.  We can add deft physical comedy to her arsenal as well as a knack for keenly honed, vicious monologue.  We then meet Maria, an arch Spanish air-hostess on a less than safety-conscious airline; Unity de la Touch, a boozy old grand dame; and poor, poor Louise; a soul broken by romantic ill-fortune.

As with any range of characters, there are some that are stronger than others.  Medina is a marvellous creation and would be worthy of a show on her own.  There’s something of the dominatrix in her DNA, and Marshall vamps it up outrageously.  You’d be advised not to have a mouthful of drink when she does “the ovary dance.”  Conversely, Unity de la Touch feels like the kind of generic old lush we’ve seen many times before from Marie Dressler to Absolutely Fabulous, and Marshall hits hardest when she’s avoiding mere pathos and is operating on either full harpy vengeance, or skirting with genuine horror.

Which leads us nicely to Louise again.  Ending the show on a genuinely disturbing, tragic note, Louise is given dating advice from offstage as she paws at a luckless chap pulled from the crowd.  Shock-haired, monosyllabic and rictus-faced with Joker makeup, she sends a shiver down the spine even as she elicits laughter.  Marshall uses her willowy physicality to perfection in a character that’s like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane meets J-Horror.

Brilliantly theatrical and in complete surrender to her darkest impulses, Alice Marshall does character comedy at its rawest, and most uncomfortable.